June 13, 2024


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Interview with Jeff Cosgrove: Be open to experience – feel the flow of where the music is going: Video, new CD cover

Interview with jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove. An interview by email in writing.

JazzBluesNews.com: – Please explain your creative process … What are your main impulses to write music?

Jeff Cosgrove: – I really like to start with guardrails and limits when I write music, it helps me focus.  Most of the time, I will start with a rhythmic idea first and then find some melodic combinations that speak within that rhythmic idea. If the melodic idea comes to me first, I will just write different combinations of the notes out as only quarter notes then try to hear a rhythm afterwards.  For me the main thing is finding that inspiration within the note combinations. A lot of times, that inspiration is drawn from people in my life.  It is kind of writing music at people.

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JBN: – What do you personally consider to be the incisive moments and pieces in your work and/or career?

JC: – The first really incisive moment of my career came when I connected with drummer and my longtime teacher Mike Shepherd.  I met Mike when I was 22 years old, was burned out on playing music, didn’t like how my sound was developing, and had a broken collarbone.  Through Saturday afternoon sessions at Mike’s, he put me back on the path.  Mike helped me to recommit to the music and find my voice on the drums.  The encouragement from Mike is something that I hope passes through to all of the musicians I get to play with.

There are a couple of pieces that I’ve written that really speak to me.  The first one is a tune on my Confusing Motion for Progress recording called AC.  This was written for drummer/composer Andrew Cyrille.  I transcribed his comments to me on a piece I was playing for him and every time I play it, it makes me smile thinking of him.  The other is a new piece entitled Thirteen.  As I was writing it, I couldn’t help but think of my Great Grandmother who I spent a lot of time with growing up.  She was really superstitious and when the tune kept coming back to a thirteen bar form, I knew it was for her.  I just love the idea of being able to celebrate people in my life through my music.  It draws another connection to them for me, even when it is hard to connect with them regularly or they have passed on.

JBN: – Before we jump into anything historical, can you tell us about what we can expect musically this evening?

JC: – Well, every evening with music for me is a little different.  Tonight when I sit down to play the drums, I really try to welcome the sound and be grateful for vibration and connection.  Since I’ve been studying the kanjira (a south Indian tambourine), I typically expect a lot of frustration…in a good way.

JBN: – Are there sub-genres within the jazz field that you tend to stay away from or focus on?

JC: – I tend to be more focused on more free jazz.  I like the opportunity to go anywhere at any moment with the music while feeding off the energy from my bandmates.  After a gig where we have no plan and just let go into the music, I am able to shut my brain off and really get lost in what is happening musically.  That ability to shut off the internal monolog that goes on with everyday life, even for an hour, really rejuvenates me.

I really like all kinds of jazz and still do a fair amount of straight ahead playing but I don’t think anyone would really mistake me for a straight bebopper.

JBN: – When your first desire to become involved in the music was & what do you learn about yourself from music?

JC: – I remember noticing music when I was really young.  My great-grandmother always had music on – showtunes mostly, my grandfather would take me to see all kinds of music, and my parents would take me to see the military bands in Washington, DC.  I really started to become involved in music as a player in high school.  I had a couple of bands that I would work to book and set up performances with other local bands, it was a lot of fun.

As I got older and became more focused, I started to learn how music could heal me.  It started to giving me an opportunity to find a place within myself that I was able to be my truest self, which can be scary.  The music started to teach me patience with myself and that is a very slow, ongoing lesson.

JBN: – How do you prepare before your performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?

JC: – The thing that helps me before performances maintain my musical and spiritual stamina is that I like to take a walk before the performance all by myself. I like to turn my cell phone off and only hear what is going on around me. It is my opportunity to center so I can be within the musical environment.  It is really easy to get caught up in all of the distractions of everyday life and just a simple walk really helps me.

JBN: – What do you love most about your two new albums 2023: Welcome Home, Confusing Motion for Progress, how it was formed and what you are working on today.

JC: – The thing I love about Confusing Motion for Progress is how Noah Preminger and Kim Cass interpreted my compositions.  They pushed me to a new place of writing and brought the music to life. They are such creative personalities and incredible musicians that their musical connection brings me into a new sense of awareness around my compositions.  Getting to play this music in front of an audience and really having them help shape the direction of the music through their feedback was really exciting too.

On Welcome Home when Jeff Lederer starts to harmonize with the passing train in Dewey’s Tune is a highlight, as well as, when a drunk patron starts to heckle us.  It felt so good to just play.  Mark and I have been playing together for more than 10 years and this was the first time the three of us played together and there was a real vibe that happened.  We were playing in the town that I had lived in for a long time and spent so much of my musical life there, even though I had moved away in recent years, it felt very at home, like only a unique hometown crowd can.

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JBN: – Did your sound evolve during that time? And how did you select the musicians who play on the album?

JC: – I feel like my sound is a constant state of evolution.  I like to study a lot – drums, world percussion, composition, and different types of music.  Everything I hear and experience changes my sound, even if it is just a little.  I’ve also been really fortunate that I get to play with a lot of different musicians and each time, they bring something new out of my playing.  A lot of those performances get recorded which leads to sound evolution when I go back and study them.

Choosing the musicians for both of these recordings felt very natural.  Bassist Mark Lysher and I have been playing together for over 10 years but never recorded together.  I knew his wide and deep sound would fit perfectly with saxophonist Jeff Lederer.  The playing on Welcome Home is the first time they’ve played together, and their musical personalities just fit perfectly.  With Noah Preminger and Kim Cass, those two are just such an incredible unit with a lot of history.  They went to college together and their connection is so strong.  We’ve played together a few times as a trio before this recording and I knew I wanted to capture the sound of the band.  These musicians just really bring the best out of me and my music.  They are such generous musical spirits and I’m so grateful that they give so much life to each note they put out.

JBN: – How would you describe and rate the music scene you are currently living?

JC: – The music scene in my area is small but has some real champions working to help it grow.  It’s hard living in a rural area to have venues that stick around or establish a really strong audience.  I’ve lived here 9 years now and it is really great to see watch the scene evolve.  The musicians here work really hard to be inventive.

JBN: – When you improvise, you know where you’re going. It’s a matter of taking certain paths and certain directions?

JC: – When I improvise, honestly, I have no idea where I am going most of the time and that is my favorite part.  That mindset frees me from any controlling aspects of my personality.  I am able to let go and feel the flow of where the music is going.  It feels like a conversation and I’m not trying to anticipate where we will end up.  So much of it for me is how much I enjoy the sounds of the musicians I play with that certain paths just appear when we are playing.

JBN: – Do you ever get the feeling that music majors, and particularly people who are going into jazz, are being cranked out much like business majors? That they are not really able to express themselves as jazz musicians?

JC: – I definitely think there is an aspect of that.  There seems to be very little mentorship opportunities for these young musicians and they get kind of shackled with music school expectations.  It takes time with younger musicians to start to feel confident of their sound in the real world and as they begin to accept that honesty with themselves, they start to improvise like themselves.  It is hard because colleges and universities are filling a gap in the mentorship process but that fear of falling on your face in the real world, really helps shape you as a musician…or at least it did for me doesn’t really exist in the college and university programs.

JBN: – With such an illustrious career, what has given you the most satisfaction musically?

JC: – The biggest thing for me has been getting to play with and become friends with musicians who I would read about and go see when I was growing up.  It’s really just a huge shock to my system to think about all of the great improvisers that inspire me that I get to play with.  These musicians push me, help pick me up when I’ve become musically in a rut, they bring their experience to our playing together, and that is something I never thought was possible.

JBN: – From the musical and feeling point of view is there any difference between a old and great jazzmans and young?

JC: – I think that experience is the biggest difference between a young jazz musician and a great older jazz musician.  The older musician has confidence in their sound, a connection to the music they are making, while knowing how to give the music just enough lift.  Younger musicians can bring a fire and a youthful reckless-abandon which is necessary, too.  They may not know exactly what the music needs but, if they are willing to be open to the sound, they will find it.

JBN: – What advice would you give to aspiring musicians thinking of pursuing a career?

JC: – Don’t be afraid of who you are musically.  Be open to experience – your experience, the experience of the music your fellow musicians, and the experience of the audience.  There will always be growing pains within the music but own who you are and be excited to grow!

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JBN: – Do You like our questions? So far, it’s been me asking you questions, now may I have a question from yourself…

JC: – I loved your question! My question to you is…What is the most surprising thing you are hearing from other musicians about the state of the music?

JBN: – Some people think that Jazz is dead, which is a state of unconsciousness, I think, and with which I disagree, not just me. Those who think so are dead long ago.

JBN: – Have you ever given a free concert during your entire concert career? At the bottom line, what are your expectations from our interview?

JC: – I have given lots of free concerts and I actually play free concerts pretty regularly.  Sometimes I will get some other musicians to set up and play in the park for anyone to come and check out or sometimes we will play a concert for a charity and donate all of the money to the charity from the concert.  It feels really nice to play that way.

Interview by Emmanuel Bolton

Note: https://jazzbluesnews.com/2023/03/19/useu-jazz-blues-association-festivals/ You can express your consent and join our association, which will give you the opportunity to perform at our Jazz and Blues festivals, naturally receiving an appropriate royalty. We cover all expenses. The objectives of the interview are: How to introduce yourself, your activities, thoughts and intellect, and make new discoveries for our US/EU Jazz & Blues Association, which organizes festivals, concerts and meetings in Boston and various European countries, why not for you too!! You can read more about the association here. https://jazzbluesnews.com/2022/11/19/useujba/

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